Despite the remarkable progress of the day – or maybe because of it – Gertruida can’t relax. Sure, they’ve managed to get Annatjie to peek out from behind her high walls of denial, but three things still had to happen. One: she had to be reunited with her father. Two: the letter…must she read it? And, worst of all, Number Three: what about the report she got back from Colonel Gericke? This last issue weighs heavily on Gertruida’s conscience – should it be made known at all?
Annatjie sips her tea while she asks Servaas to tell her again about Siena. This is the third time the old man has to relate his history and this time she reaches out to lay a hand on the old man’s shoulder when he gets to the part where the two of them had to say their final goodbyes.
“You were lucky,” she says when he falls silent.
“Lucky? Maybe. But it was hard work, too. We never allowed an issue to be unresolved. If something bothered either os uf, we talked our way out of it. Communication…that’s why our love grew over the years.”
“W-What must I do, Oom Servaas?”
Another step forward! Gertruida almost manages to hide a wry smile. Her soft, psychologically correct approach didn’t make the slightest dent in the armour of Annatjie’s depressed mind – while Servaas simply blundered his way through. Shows you, she thinks, books and professors only go so far – sometimes the wrong approach can be the right one.
“You’ll have to do what you can, Annatjie.” Servaas’s tone is surprisingly caring. “You had two major losses in your life: Hennie and your daddy. For a while you stayed with Mevrou Meintjies, thinking it’d fill a void. I’m sure you two women helped each other survive. Then she, too, died and left you here on this godforsaken piece of ground. Hennie is dead. Your father, however, is still alive. When last he visited here, you blamed him for Hennie’s death – that hurt him a lot. Maybe, if you could consider seeing him now, you can repair that damage, don’t you think? After all, he’s the only living relative and the only link you still have with Hennie…?”
The group watches, spellbound, as Annatjie slowly nods.
Gertruida can’t help worrying about Gericke’s report. She can almost recall – word for word – what the old man had said.
“This is a tricky one, Gertruida. That young man flew through his basic training. The reports on him paint a glowing picture of a natural leader, which is why he was promoted to lance corporal even before they finished the initial phase at Voortrekkerhoogte. He came from the Kalahari – as you know – and knew a lot about survival skills and tracking. As soon as they’d finished basic training, he was sent to a base in the Caprivi Strip.
“It seems as if he lost it up there. Initially he was the perfect soldier, but then they started having contact with the terrorists. Something must have happened, because he avoided the enemy at all costs after a while. I have one report here that describes how he made a massive detour to prevent his patrol from running into the other side. When asked about it afterwards, he said he was saving lives. His commanding officer was in the process of transferring him to Grootfontein when the…incident…happened.
“Anyway, he left on an unscheduled flight, late in November 1975. Him, two others and a pilot. The plane headed across the border, apparently aiming straight at Luanda. An emergency meeting was held. A Mirage was scrambled to follow them. When it became clear that their destination was indeed to fly to Luanda, the Mirage pilot tried repeatedly to contact them on the radio. No response. He even tried to herd them back, flying close and cutting them off. Still no effect. So, acting on orders from HQ, the Mirage brought him down.”
“You mean….we shot down our own plane? With our own men on board?”
“Yes, Gertruida, that’s exactly what the report states. Officially, the loss of the plane was blamed on the Cubans, but that’s not what happened.”
Gertruida closes her eyes. Oh Lord, give me the wisdom to handle this one correctly…
Precilla and Gertruida help Annatjie clean up for the visit to her father. Once Annatjie agreed to the meeting, they jumped into action. There was no time to waste: nobody was sure what she’d be like the next day, so it was an easy decision to get her ready immediately. After a quick trip to Rolbos, Precilla returned with the necessities.
Now, with her hair neatly brushed back in a elegant bun, some makeup and the dress Precilla brought, Annatjie is almost unrecognisable. Gone is the forlorn and sad look. Even the lines on her face seem less. When she emerged from her bedroom, flanked by the two other women, Kleinpiet let a soft wolf-wistle – earning him a look of mock jealousy from Precilla.
“Shall we go, my dear?” Servaas offers her an inviting elbow.
Annatjie stops dead in her tracks. Staring at the excited faces of the Rolbossers, she suddenly hesitates, uncertainty once again clouding her mind.
“I can’t…” With the skin on her chin wrinkling up with emotion, she shakes her head. “I can’t do this… Not alone. Not without…”
She turns, rushes back to the bedroom. Returns with the box of letters.
“Hennie will help me,” she says softly. “He’d want me to be brave…like he was…”
The trip to the retirement village takes an eternity. Annatjie seems to have disappeared behind her walls again, stoically staring out of the window with a withdrawn and distant expression.
Boggel tried to get her to talk about the farm, got no reaction, and gave up. Precilla, on the other hand, is tremendously pleased with the result of their efforts. Annatjie must have been a real beauty when she was younger. It’s amazing what a little care and cosmetics can do. She wonders if – when this is all over – it is possible that Annatjie will be able to escape the attentions of the few widowers in the district. The thought makes her smile.
But it is in Gertruida’s mind that anxiety reaches a boiling point. How will Mister Blum handle the situation? The time spent with Annatjie went by in such a rush, there was no time to contact the old man to warn him of his daughter’s visit. And – oh Lord! – what about the report? And the letter?
Gertruida – the woman who knows everything – closes her eyes in a silent prayer. She simply does not have the answers to all the questions.
(To be continued…)